The online opinionator
So just who is Walter E. Wallis anyway?
If you frequent the online forum TownSquare, you know that Walter E. Wallis has something to say about almost everything.
The 74-year-old Midtown resident is a frequent contributor to the Palo Alto Weekly's community forum at www.PaloAltoOnline.com, where he shares his mostly conservative thoughts on a range of topics, from the school system to tipping in a restaurant to Hummer drivers to the Iraq War.
"Mainly, I have firm opinions on things," he said unabashedly.
And, unlike most people who post their opinions online using a pseudonym or a first name, he is out there and underscored: "Walter_E_Wallis."
"I have very little to lose," the self-employed engineer said bluntly. "I never got into hiding myself."
Admittedly, Wallis' opinions tend to go against the grain of his liberal-leaning community.
"It's a town of 55,000 real nice liberal people and one old grouch," he joked.
The 40-year Palo Alto resident knows that some people would probably rather have him banished from their sites. He doesn't mind one bit.
"There's a lot of people who don't like me and don't like my attitude," Wallis said. "They can't make me cry because I've been called pretty much everything in the book."
In fact, he almost seems to relish the excitement he creates.
Besides his daily contributions to TownSquare, Wallis also pops up often on the Santa Cruz Sentinel's online forum to cause a stir.
"Almost everyone on the site is a flaming liberal, so I go in there and twist their noses occasionally, and it infuriates them," he said.
He resists being defined by one political party, however.
"I'm too old to be a neo-con," he said. "I'm not really conservative on everything."
He called himself "pretty much libertarian" but was once an "Adlai Stevenson democrat."
"Occasionally, I vote for people who have a chance of winning. Mostly, I vote for people who don't," he quipped.
The profuse online poster, whom some have labeled a "Bush apologist," said he can be found reading blogs and news Web sites such as Drudge Report, Little Green Footballs, California Yankee, Junk Science, Joanne Jacobs, World Net Daily and Orbusmax.
He also watches the Mount St. Helens VolcanoCam.
He has no blog of his own, though.
"I still occasionally have to do something to earn a living, and I suspect something like that would eat me alive."
Though posting to online forums is a relatively recent development for the Korean War veteran, he's been writing letters to the editors of various publications for 40 years -- including the Sacramento Bee and the San Jose Mercury News, which he fondly calls the "Merky Turkey."
"I've been thrown off the Merky Turkey editorial page," he recalled. "I almost got thrown off of your pages."
His passion for speaking his mind began at 11, when the self-described "scrawny kid" was a paper boy for the Sacramento Union. The state capitol was along his route, so it was only natural for him to begin forming opinions of politicians.
The advent of online forums was a welcome relief for Wallis, who found letters to the editor limited back-and-forth dialogue between letter writers with opposing views.
"Back in the days of writing letters to the editor, if I got two hits a month I would consider myself lucky," he recalled.
Now, he can have a free exchange of information in a matter of minutes.
"Just about anybody who has a comment section," he said, can expect to hear from Walter_E_Wallis.
For a living, Wallis is the "sole proprietor and worker" for Wallis Engineering, designing electrical, plumbing and air conditioning systems.
Wallis works out of his home office and has a wife and kids.
He counts energy and engineering among his favorite topics to comment on, recalling one rather graphic reply he received to his letter to the Palo Alto Times advocating drilling for oil off the California coastline. He woke up to find a case of oil "busted in my driveway and a note in my windshield signed, 'How do you like this oil? Crudely, Earth First.'"
But not all the responses he receives have been negative.
"I have occasional people phone me up and compliment me on my stand," he said.
Not surprisingly, Wallis is just as vocal in expressing his views by telephone as he is on TownSquare. Here are just a few of his opinions from recent phone interviews with the Weekly:
"We do live in a dangerous world. We do have enemies, and eventually, they can hurt us. We can't hide behind the oceans. We can't hide behind anything else. Diplomacy works with honorable people. We have enemies that are not honorable.
On the president:
"I'm beginning to think there's about three things Bush did right: going into Iraq, passing the tax cuts and appointing conservative judges. Pretty much the rest of it he's kind of a bubble head."
On global warming:
"The people who blame man for global warming are really reeling in the dough for doing it."
On "earth worshippers:"
"Earth worshippers," Wallis said, "look upon man as a contamination and deeply resent rising population and hearken back to the pretty little village where everybody grows their own plot in the back of their cabin and nobody contaminates the earth with roads and cars. The only problem is that you die at 25. Energy makes the difference between being a savage and being a modern person."
On the Palo Alto City Council's travel budget:
"They've decided they're going to increase the travel budget and fly all over the country to talk about how to turn green and do away with global warming, and I think this is a contradiction in terms. I made my proposal that they go strictly teleconferencing."
On Sen. Barbara Boxer and airplanes:
"There's one thing Barbara Boxer and I agree on, and it's the fact that the air in an airliner should never be recirculated."
On his neighborhood, Midtown:
"It's got one more drug store than it needs, one more coffee shop than it needs, but I guess that's the way it goes. I'd sure wish they'd get that gas station open again."
Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.